Tim York, Markon Cooperative
Tim York, Markon Cooperative

Convenience, price and even taste are no longer the sole motivators in foodservice purchases. Consumers want more from the food they put into their bodies. They want food that provides health benefits.

It’s part of a shift in the healthcare environment, identified in recent Food Foresight reports developed by Nuffer, Smith, Tucker and the University of California-Davis. Advances in genetic sequencing combined with new digital health tools means we know more about our bodies than ever before.

This, combined with the shortage in primary care physicians, rising healthcare costs, and the yet-to-be fully realized impact of the Affordable Care Act, is fueling an environment where emphasis is shifting from reactively treating disease to proactively optimizing health and wellness.

We also know more about the health of particular foods.

Kale, for example, has taken center stage due in part to its numerous health benefits — calcium and vitamins A, C, and K as well as iron, folate, and vitamin B6. “Super foods” are also getting a lot of attention — avocados, berries, nuts, greens and the like, although there is some confusion about what defines a super food and what the specific health benefits are of particular foods.

In 2010, Joel Fuhrman introduced the ANDI (Aggregate Nutrient Density Index) score, centering on produce. The scoring system ranks the nutrient value for each calorie consumed. Kale, collards, chards and bok choy rank at the top of this list.

Food with benefitsOn the foodservice front, we see Applebee’s offering seasonal salads with spinach, blueberries, strawberries and almonds. Panera added a fat-free super fruit power smoothie with super fruit puree. Chick-fil-A and California Pizza Kitchen have incorporated avocados into their menu, and Seasons 52 has a quinoa salad with fruits, vegetables and herbs that change with the seasons.

Looking forward, there are indicators that dark leafy greens will continue to get attention not only because of their culinary diversity, but because they are the most nutrient dense vegetables on the planet.

The produce industry is responding with new product innovations. Earlier in October, The Nunes Co. formally launched BroccoLeaf, organic leaves of the broccoli plant harvested earlier than the broccoli heads. The leaves are rich in nutrients providing calcium, vitamin A, a full Recommended Dietary Allowance of vitamin C, plus phytonutrients.

At Markon, we’ve introduced several new products that build off the trend. Our Ready-Set-Serve EnerCHI Asian Salad, a nutrient dense blend of baby bok choy, snow pea shoots and other Asian greens, offers not only high nutritional value, but also refreshing new flavors and textures.

Our Super Slaw combines four super foods: kale, brussels sprouts, broccoli and cabbage. And our Kalettes — a newly created cross between red Russian kale and brussels sprouts — also meet the need for new healthy products.

The leafy greens category is just one piece of the health puzzle. Already cauliflower, carrots, and now kohlrabi are finding their way to the center of the plate in some of the most popular restaurants across the globe.

So how do we in the produce industry step up to the plate and give people what they want and need, possibly even before they know it?

Growers and shippers should think about how products fit into this new health environment. Consider varietals that are nutrient dense — and communicate those health benefits to customers along with simple serving suggestions.

The result could be not only increased sales, but healthier menus and consumers.

Tim York is CEO of Salinas, Calif., Markon Cooperative, made up of eight North American foodservice distributors. Centerplate is a monthly column offering a peek at “what’s now and next” for foodservice and the implications for the produce industry.


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